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The Alter Strom, in the sea resort of Warnemünde, Germany.
The Royal Canal in Ireland.

Canals are man-made channels for water. There are two types of canal:

  1. Aqueduct (or water conveyance) canals that are used for the conveyance and delivery of fresh water, for human consumption, agriculture, etc.
  2. Waterway canals that are navigable transportation canals used for carrying ships and boats loaded with goods and people, often connected to existing lakes, rivers, or oceans. Included here are inter-ocean canals such as the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal.

The word "canal" is also used for a city-canal (gracht) in Dutch cities.


Types of artificial waterways

Some canals are part of an existing waterway. This is usually where a river has been canalised: making it navigable by widening and deepening some parts (by dredging, weirs or both), and providing locks with "cuts" around the weirs or other difficult sections. In France, these waterways are called lateral canals and in the UK they are generally called navigations, and the length of the artificial waterway often exceeds the natural. The individual cuts that make up such a canal system may each be called a reach.[1]

Smaller transportation canals can carry barges or narrowboats, while ship canals allow seagoing ships to travel to an inland port (e.g.: Manchester Ship Canal), or from one sea or ocean to another (e.g.: Caledonian Canal, Panama Canal).


A series of approximately 20 black lock gates with white ends to the paddle arms and wooden railings, each slightly higher than the one below. On the right is a path and on both sides grass and vegetation.
The flight of 16 consecutive locks at Caen Hill on the Kennet and Avon Canal, Wiltshire, England
A canal boat traverses the longest and highest aqueduct in the UK, at Pontcysyllte in Denbighshire, Wales

At their simplest, canals consist of a trench filled with water. Depending on the stratum the canal passes through, it may be necessary to line the cut with some form of watertight material such as clay or concrete. When this is done with clay this is known as puddling.

Canals need to be level, and while small irregularities in the lie of the land can be dealt with through cuttings and embankments, for larger deviations, other approaches have been adopted. The most common is the pound lock which consists of a chamber within which the water level can be raised or lowered connecting either two pieces of canal at a different level or the canal with a river or the sea. When there is a hill to be climbed, flights of many locks in short succession may be used.

Prior to the development of the pound lock in 984AD in China by Chhaio Wei-Yo[2] and later in Europe in the 15th century, either flash locks consisting of a single gate were used or ramps, sometimes equipped with rollers, were used to change level. Flash locks were only practical where there was plenty of water available.

Locks use a lot of water, so builders have adopted other approaches. These include boat lifts, such as the Falkirk wheel, which use a caisson of water in which boats float while being moved between two levels; and inclined planes where a caisson is hauled up a steep railway.

To cross a stream or road, the solution is usually to bridge with an aqueduct. To cross a wide valley (where the journey delay caused by a flight of locks at either side would be unacceptable) the centre of the valley can be spanned by an aqueduct - a famous example in Wales is the Pontcysyllte aqueduct across the valley of the River Dee.

Another option for dealing with hills is to tunnel through them. An example of this approach is the Harecastle Tunnel on the Trent and Mersey Canal. Tunnels are only practical for smaller canals.

Some canals attempted to keep changes in level down to a minimum. These canals known as contour canals would take longer winding routes, along which the land was a uniform altitude. Other generally later canals took more direct routes requiring the use of various methods to deal with the change in level.

Canals have various features to tackle the problem of water supply. In some cases such as the Suez Canal the canal is simply open to the sea. Where the canal is not at sea level a number of approaches have been adopted. Taking water from existing rivers or springs was an option in some cases, sometimes supplemented by other methods to deal with seasonal variations in flow. Where such sources were unavailable, reservoirs, either separate from the canal, or built into its course, and back pumping was used to provide the required water. In other cases water pumped from mines was used to feed the canal.

Where large amounts of goods are loaded or unloaded such as at the end of a canal a canal basin may be built. This would normally be a section of water wider than the general canal. In some cases the canal basins contain wharfs and cranes to assist with movement of goods.

When a section of the canal needs to be sealed off so it can be drained for maintenance stop planks are frequently used. These consist of planks of wood placed across the canal to form a dam. They are generally placed in pre existing grooves in the canal bank.


Ancient canals

The Grand Canal of China at Suzhou

The oldest known canals were irrigation canals, built in Mesopotamia circa 4000 BC, in what is now modern day Iraq and Syria. The Indus Valley Civilization in Pakistan and North India (circa 2600 BC) had sophisticated irrigation and storage systems developed, including the reservoirs built at Girnar in 3000 BC.[3] In Egypt, canals date back at least to the time of Pepi I Meryre (reigned 2332–2283 BC), who ordered a canal built to bypass the cataract on the Nile near Aswan.[4]

In ancient China, large canals for river transport were established as far back as the Warring States (481-221 BC), the longest one of that period being the Hong Gou (Canal of the Wild Geese), which according to the ancient historian Sima Qian connected the old states of Song, Zhang, Chen, Cai, Cao, and Wei.[5] By far the longest canal was the Grand Canal of China, still the longest canal in the world today. It is 1,794 kilometres (1,115 mi) long and was built to carry the Emperor Yang Guang between Beijing and Hangzhou. The project began in 605 and was completed in 609, although much of the work combined older canals, the oldest section of the canal existing since at least 486 BC. Even in its narrowest urban sections it is rarely less than 30 metres (98 ft) wide.

Canals in the Middle Ages

Thal Canal, Punjab, Pakistan.

In the Middle Ages, water transport was cheaper and faster than transport overland. This was because roads were unpaved and in poor condition and greater amounts could be transported by ship. The first artificial canal in Christian Europe was the Fossa Carolina built at the end of the 8th Century under personal supervision of Charlemagne. More lasting and of more economic impact were canals like the Naviglio Grande built between 1127 and 1257, the most important of the lombardnavigli”,[6] Later, canals were built in the Netherlands and Flanders to drain the polders and assist the transportation of goods.

Canal building was revived in this age because of commercial expansion from the 12th century AD. River navigations were improved progressively by the use of single, or flash locks. Taking boats through these used large amounts of water leading to conflicts with watermill owners and to correct this, the pound or chamber lock first appeared, in 10th century AD in China and in Europe in 1373 in Vreeswijk, Netherlands.[7] Another important development was the mitre gate which was probably introduced in Italy by Bertola da Novate in the sixteenth century. This allowed wider gates and also removed the height restriction of guillotine locks.

To break out of the limitations caused by river valleys, the first summit level canals were developed with the Grand Canal of China in 581-617 AD whilst in Europe the first, also using single locks, was the Stecknitz Canal in Germany in 1398. The first to use pound locks was the Briare Canal connecting the Loire and Seine (1642), followed by the more ambitious Canal du Midi (1683) connecting the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. This included a staircase of 8 locks at Béziers, a 157 metres (515 ft) tunnel and three major aqueducts.

Canal building progressed steadily in Germany in the 17th and 18th centuries with three great rivers, the Elbe, Oder and Weser being linked by canals. In post-Roman Britain, the first canal built appears to have been the Exeter Canal, which opened in 1563. The oldest canal built for industrial purposes in North America is Mother Brook in Dedham, MA. It was constructed in 1639 to provide water power for mills. In Russia, the Volga-Baltic Waterway, a nationwide canal system connecting the Baltic and Caspian seas via the Neva and Volga rivers, was opened in 1718.

Industrial revolution

Lowell's power canal system

Canals were important for the industrial development. That's why the greatest stimulus to canal systems came from the Industrial Revolution with its need for cheap transport of raw materials and manufactured items.

In Europe, particularly Britain and Ireland, and then in the young United States and the Canadian colonies, inland canals preceded the development of railroads during the earliest phase of the Industrial Revolution. The opening of the Sankey Canal in 1757, followed by the Bridgewater Canal in 1761, which halved the price of coal in Liverpool and Manchester, respectively, triggered a period of "canal mania" in Britain so that between 1760 and 1820 over one hundred canals were built.

The Blackstone Canal in Massachusetts and Rhode Island fulfilled a similar role in the early industrial revolution between 1828-1848. The Blackstone Valley was considered the 'birthplace' of the American Industrial Revolution where Samuel Slater built his first mill.

In addition to their transportation purposes, parts of the United States, particularly in the Northeast, had enough fast-flowing rivers that water power was the primary means of powering factories (usually textile mills) until after the American Civil War. For example, Lowell, Massachusetts, considered to be "The Cradle of the American Industrial Revolution," has 6 miles (9.7 km) of canals, built from around 1790 to 1850, that provided water power and a means of transportation for the city. The output of the system is estimated at 10,000 horsepower[8]. Other cities with extensive power canal systems include Lawrence, Massachusetts, Holyoke, Massachusetts, Manchester, New Hampshire, and Augusta, Georgia.

The 19th century

US canals circa 1825

Competition from the railway network from the 1830s, and in the 20th century the roads, made the smaller canals obsolete for most commercial transportation, and many of the British canals fell into decay. Only the Manchester Ship Canal and the Aire and Calder Canal bucked this trend. Yet in other countries canals grew in size as construction techniques improved. During the 19th century in the US, the length of canals grew from 100 miles (161 km) to over 4,000, with a complex network making the Great Lakes navigable, in conjunction with Canada, although some canals were later drained and used as railroad rights-of-way.

In the United States, navigable canals reached into isolated areas and brought them in touch with the world beyond. By 1825 the Erie Canal, 363 miles (584 km) long with 82 locks, opened up a connection from the populated Northeast to the Great Lakes. Settlers flooded into regions serviced by such canals, since access to markets was available. The Erie Canal (as well as other canals) was instrumental in lowering the differences in commodity prices between these various markets across America. The canals caused price convergence between different regions because of their reduction in transportation costs, which allowed Americans to ship and buy goods from farther distances for much lower prices compared to before. Ohio built many miles of canal, Indiana had working canals for a few decades, and the Illinois and Michigan Canal connected the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River system until replaced by a channelized river waterway.

Three major canals with very different purposes were built in what is now Canada. The first Welland Canal, which opened in 1829 between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, bypassing Niagara Falls and the Lachine Canal (1825) which allowed ships to skirt the nearly impassable rapids on the St. Lawrence River at Montreal were built for commerce. The Rideau Canal, completed in 1832, connects Ottawa, on the Ottawa River to Kingston, Ontario on Lake Ontario. The Rideau Canal was built as a result of the War of 1812 to provide military transportation between the British colonies of Lower Canada and Lower Canada as an alternative to part of the St. Lawrence River which was susceptible to blockade by the United States.

In France, a steady linking of all the river systems—Rhine, Rhône, Saône and Seine—and the North Sea was boosted in 1879 by the establishment of the Freycinet gauge which specified the minimum size of locks so that canal traffic doubled in the first decades of the 20th century.[9]

Many notable sea canals were completed in this period, starting with the Suez Canal (1869), and the Kiel Canal (1897), which carries tonnage many times that of most other canals, though the Panama Canal was not opened until 1914.

In the 19th century, a number of canals were built in Japan including the Biwako canal and the Tone canal. These canals were partially built with the help of engineers from the Netherlands and other countries.[10]

Modern uses

Canals can disrupt water circulation in marsh systems.

Large scale ship canals such as the Panama Canal and Suez Canal continue to operate for cargo transportation; as do European barge canals. Due to globalization, they are becoming increasingly important, resulting in expansion projects such as the Panama Canal expansion project.

The narrow early industrial canals however have ceased to carry significant amounts of trade and many have been abandoned to navigation, but may still be used as a system for transportation of untreated water. In some cases railways have been built along the canal route, an example being the Croydon Canal.

A movement that began in Britain and France to use the early industrial canals for pleasure boats, such as hotel barges, has spurred rehabilitation of stretches of historic canals. In some cases abandoned canals such as the Kennet and Avon Canal have been restored and are now used by pleasure boaters. In Britain canalside housing has also proven popular in recent years.

The Seine-Nord Europe Canal is being developed into a major transportation waterway, linking France with Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

Canals have found another use in the 21st century, as wayleaves along the towing paths for fibre optic telecommunications networks.

Canals are still used to provide water for agriculture. An extensive canal system exists within the Imperial Valley in the Southern California desert to provide irrigation to agriculture within the area.

Cities on water

An intersection of two canals (Grachten) in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Canals are so deeply identified with Venice that many canal cities have been nicknamed "the Venice of..." The city is built on marshy islands, with wooden piles supporting the buildings, so that the land is man-made rather than the waterways. The islands have a long history of settlement; by the 12th century, Venice was a powerful city state.

Amsterdam was built in a similar way, with buildings on wooden piles. It became a city around 1300.

Other cities with extensive canal networks include: Delft, Haarlem and Leiden in the Netherlands, Brugge in Flanders, Birmingham in England which has 35 miles of canals to Venice's 26 miles, Saint Petersburg in Russia, Hamburg in Germany, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Cape Coral, Florida in the United States.

Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site near the centre of Liverpool, England, where a system of intertwining waterways and docks now being developed for mainly residential and leisure use.

Canal estates are a form of subdivision popular in cities like Miami, Florida and the Gold Coast, Queensland; the Gold Coast has over 700 km of residential canals. Wetlands are difficult areas upon which to build housing estates, so dredging part of the wetland down to a navigable channel provides fill to build up another part of the wetland above the flood level for houses. Land is built up in a finger pattern that provides a suburban street layout of waterfront housing blocks. This practice is not popular with environmentalists.[citation needed]


Two Panamax ships in the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal, Panama.

Inland canals have often had boats specifically built for them. An example of this is the British narrowboat, which is up to 72 feet (21.95 m) long and 7 feet (2.13 m) wide and was primarily built for British Midland canals. In this case the limiting factor was the size of the locks. This is also the limiting factor on the Panama canal where Panamax ships are limited to a length of 294.1 m (965 ft) and a width of 32.3 m (106 ft). For the lockless Suez Canal the limiting factor for Suezmax ships is generally draft, which is limited to 16 m (52.5 ft). At the other end of the scale, tub-boat canals such as the Bude Canal were limited to boats of under 10 tons for much of their length due to the capacity of their inclined planes or boat lifts. Most canals have a limit on height imposed either by bridges or tunnels.

Lists of canals

Amsterdam gracht

See also



  1. ^ "Reach". Oxford English Dictionary (Second ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. 1989. "...the portion of a canal between two locks, having a uniform level" 
  2. ^ Hadfield 1986, p. 22.
  3. ^ Rodda 2004, p. 161.
  4. ^ Hadfield 1986, p. 16.
  5. ^ Needham 1971, p. 269.
  6. ^ Calvert 1963, p. .
  7. ^ (PDF) The International Canal Monuments List,, retrieved 2008-10-08 
  8. ^ Lowell National Historical Park - Lowell History Prologue,, retrieved 2008-10-08 
  9. ^ Edwards 2002, p. .
  10. ^ Hadfield 1986, p. 191.


  • Calvert, Roger (1963), Inland Waterways of Europe, George Allen and Unwin 
  • Edwards-May, David (2002), European Waterways - map and concise directory, Euromapping 
  • Hadfield, Charles (1986), World Canals: Inland Navigation Past and Present, David and Charles, ISBN 0-7153-8555-0 
  • Needham, J (1971), Science and Civilisation in China, C.U.P. Cambridge 
  • Rodda, J. C. (2004), The Basis of Civilization - Water Science?, International Association of Hydrological Sciences 

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CANAL (from Lat. canalis, " channel " and " kennel " being doublets of the word), an artificial water course used for the drainage of low lands, for irrigation, or more especially for the purpose of navigation by boats, barges or ships. Probably the first canals were made for irrigation, but in very early times they came also to be used for navigation, as in Assyria and Egypt. The Romans constructed various works of the kind, and Charlemagne projected a system of waterways connecting the Main and the Rhine with the Danube, while in China the Grand Canal, joining the Pei-ho and Yang-tse-Kiang and constructed in the 13th century, formed an important artery of commerce, serving also for irrigation. But although it appears from Marco Polo that inclines were used on the Grand Canal, these early waterways suffered in general from the defect that no method being known of conveniently transferring boats from one level to another they were only practicable between points that lay on nearly the same level;and inland navigation could not become generally useful and applicable until this defect had been remedied by the employment of locks. Great doubts exist as to the person, and even the nation, that first introduced locks. Some writers attribute their invention to the Dutch, holding that nearly a century earlier than in Italy locks were used in Holland where canals are very numerous, owing to the favourable physical conditions. On the other hand, the contrivance has been claimed for engineers of the Italian school, and it is said that two brothers Domenico of Viterbo constructed a lock-chamber enclosed by a pair of gates in 1481, and that in 1487 Leonardo da Vinci completed six locks uniting the canals of Milan. Be that as it may, however, the introduction of locks in the 14th or 15th century gave a new character to inland navigation and laid the basis of its successful extension.

The Languedoc Canal (Canal du Midi) may be regarded as the pioneer of the canals of modern Europe. Joining the Bay of Biscay and the Mediterranean it is 148 m. long and rises 620 ft. above sea-level with 119 locks, its depth being about 62 ft. It was designed by Baron Paul Riquet de Bonrepos (1604-1680) and was finished in 1681. With it and the still earlier Briare canal (1605-1642) France began that policy of canal construction which has provided her with over 3000 m. of canals, in addition to over 4600 m. of navigable rivers. In Russia Peter the Great undertook the construction of a system of canals about the beginning of the 18th century, and in Sweden a canal with locks, connecting Eskilstuna with Lake Malar, was finished in 1606. In England the oldest artificial canal is the Foss Dyke, a relic of the Roman occupation. It extends from Lincoln to the river Trent near Torksey (11 m.), and formed a continuation of the Caer Dyke, also of Roman origin but now filled up, which ran from Lincoln to Peterborough (40 m.). Camden in his Britannia says that the Foss Dyke was deepened and to some extent rendered navigable in 11 21. Little, however, was done in making canals in Great Britain until the middle of the 18th century, though before that date some progress had been made in rendering some of the larger rivers navigable. In 1759 the duke of Bridgewater obtained powers to construct a canal between Manchester and his collieries at Worsley, and this work, of which James Brindley was the engineer, and which was opened for traffic in'76 ',was followed by a period of great activity in canal construction, which, however, came to an end with the introduction of railways. According to evidence given before the royal commission on canals in 1906 the total mileage of existing canals in the United Kingdom was 3901. In the United States the first canal was made in 1793 at South Hadley, Connecticut, and the canal-system, though its expansion was checked by the growth of railways, has attained a length of 4200 m., most of the canals being in the states of New York and Pennsylvania. The splendid inland navigation system of Canada mainly consists of natural lakes and rivers, and the artificial waterways are largely " lateral " canals, cut in order to enable vessels to avoid rapids in the rivers. (See the articles on the various countries for accounts of the canalsystems they possess.) The canals that were made in the early days of canal-construction were mostly of the class known as barge or boat canals, and owing to their limited depth and breadth were only available for vessels of small size. But with the growth of commerce the advantage was seen of cutting canals of such dimensions as to enable them to accommodate sea-going ships. Such ship-canals, which from an engineering point of view chiefly differ from barge-canals in the magnitude of the works they involve, have mostly been constructed either to shorten the voyage between two seas by cutting through an intervening isthmus, or to convert important inland places into sea-ports. An early example of the first class is afforded by the Caledonian Canal, while among later ones may be mentioned the Suez Canal, the Kaiser Wilhelm, Nord-Ostsee or Kiel Canal, connecting Brunsbiittel at the mouth of the Elbe with Kiel (q.v.) on the Baltic, and the various canals that have been proposed across the isthmus that joins North and South America (see Panama Canal). Examples of the second class are the Manchester Ship Canal and the canal that runs from Zeebrugge on the North Sea to Bruges.


In laying out a line of canal the engineer is more restricted than in forming the route of a road or a railway. Since water runs downhill, gradients are inadmissible, and the canal must either be made on one uniform level or must be adapted to the general rise or fall of the country through which it passes by being constructed in a series of level reaches at varying heights above a chosen datum line, each closed by a lock or some equivalent device to enable vessels to be transferred from one to another. To avoid unduly heavy earthwork, the reaches must closely follow the bases of hills and the windings of valleys, but from time to time it will become necessary to cross a sudden depression by the aid of an embankment or aqueduct, while a piece of rising ground or a hill may involve a cutting or a tunnel. Brindley took the Bridgewater canal over the Irwell at Barton by means of an aqueduct of three stone arches, the centre one having a span of 63 ft., and T. Telford arranged that the Ellesmere canal should cross the Dee valley at Pont-y-Cysyllte partly by embankment and partly by aqueduct. The embankment was continued till it was 75 ft. above the ground, when it was succeeded by an aqueduct, I 000 f t. long and 127 ft. above the river, consisting of a cast iron trough supported on iron arches with stone piers. Occasionally when a navigable stream has to be crossed, a swing viaduct is necessary to allow shipping to pass. The first was that built by Sir E. Leader Williams to replace Brindley's aqueduct at Barton, which was only high enough to give room for barges (see MAN Chester Ship Canal). One of the earliest canal tunnels was made in 1766-1777 by Brindley at Harecastle on the Trent and Mersey canal; it is 2880 yds. long, 12 ft. high and 9 ft. wide, and has no tow-path, the boats being propelled by men lying on their backs and pushing with their feet against the tunnel walls (" leggers "). A second tunnel, parallel to this but 16 ft. high and 14 ft. wide, with a tow-path, was finished by Telford in 1827. Standedge tunnel, on the Huddersfield canal, is over 3 m. long, and is also worked by leggers.

The dimensions of a canal, apart from considerations of watersupply, are regulated by the size of the vessels which are to be used on it. According to J. M. Rankine, the depth of water and sectional area of waterway should be such ?' as not to cause any material increase of the resistance to the motion of the boats beyond what would be encountered in open water, and he gives the following rules as fulfilling these conditions: - Least breadth of bottom =2 X greatest breadth of boat. Least depth of water = i z ft. Xgreatest draught of boat. Least area of waterway =6 X greatest midship section of boat.

The ordinary inland canal is commonly from 25 to 30 ft. wide at the bottom, which is flat, and from 40 to 50 ft. at the water level, with a depth of 4 or 5 ft., the angle of slope of the sides varying with the nature of the soil. To retain the water in porous ground, and especially on embankments, a strong watertight lining of puddle or tempered clay must be provided on the bed and sides of the channel. Puddle is made of clay which has been finely chopped up with narrow spades, water being supplied until it is in a semi-plastic state. It is used in thin layers, each of which is worked so as to be firmly united with the lower stratum. The full thickness varies from 2 to 3 ft. To prevent the erosion of the sides at the water-line by the wash from the boats, it may be necessary to pitch them with stones or face them with brushwood. In some of the old canals the slopes have been cut away and vertical walls built to retain the towingpaths, with the result of adding materially to the sectional area of the waterway.

A canal cannot be properly worked without a supply of water calculated to last over the driest season of the year. If there be no natural lake available in the district for storage and supply, or if the engineer cannot draw upon some stream of sufficient size, he must form artificial reservoirs in suitable situations, and the conditions which must be attended to in selecting the positions of these and in constructing them are the same as those for drinking-water supply, except that the purity of the water is not a matter of moment. They must be situated at such an elevation that the water from them may flow to the summit-level of the canal, and if the expense of pumping is to be avoided, they must command a sufficient catchment area to supply the loss of water from the canal by evaporation from the surface, percolation through the bed, and lockage. If the supply be inadequate, the draught of the boats plying on the canal may have to be reduced in a dry season, and the consequent decrease in the size of their cargoes will both lessen the carrying capacity of the canal and increase the working expenses in relation to the tonnage handled. Again. since the consumption of water in lockage increases both with the size of the locks and the frequency with which they are used, the difficulty of finding a sufficient water supply may put a limit to the density of traffic possible on a canal or may prohibit its locks from being enlarged so as to accommodate boats of the size necessary for the economical handling of the traffic under modern conditions. It may be pointed out that the up consumes more water than the down traffic. An ascending boat on entering a lock displaces a volume of water equal to its submerged capacity. The water so displaced flows into the lower reach of the canal, and as the boat passes through the lock is replaced by water flowing from the upper reach. A descending boat in the same way displaces a volume of water equal to its submerged capacity, but in this case the water flows back into the higher reach where it is retained when the gates are closed.

An essential adjunct to a canal is a sufficient number of waste-weirs to discharge surplus water accumulating during floods, which, if not provided with an exit, may overflow the tow-path, and cause a breach in the banks, stoppage of the traffic, and damage to adjoining lands. The number and positions of these waste-weirs must depend on the nature of the country through which the canal passes. Wherever the canal crosses a stream a wasteweir should be formed in the aqueduct; but independently, of this the engineer must consider at what points large influxes of water may be apprehended, and must at such places form not only waste-weirs of sufficient size to carry off the surplus, but also artificial courses for its discharge into the nearest streams. These waste-weirs are placed at the top water-level of the canal, so that when a flood occurs the water flows over them and thus relieves the banks.

Stop-gates are necessary at short intervals of a few miles for the purpose of dividing the canal into isolated reaches. so that in the event of a breach the gates may be shut, and the discharge of water confined to the small reach intercepted between two of them, instead of extending throughout the whole line of canal. In broad canals these stop-gates may be formed like the gates of locks, two pairs of gates being made to shut in opposite directions. In small works they may be made of thick planks slipped into grooves formed at the narrow points of the canal under road bridges, or at contractions made at intermediate points to receive them. Self-acting stop-gates have been tried, but have not proved trustworthy. When repairs have to be made stop-gates allow of the water being run off by " off-lets " from a short reach, and afterwards restored with but little interruption of the traffic. These off-lets are pipes placed at the level of the bottom of the canal and provided with valves which can be opened when required. They are generally formed at aqueducts or bridges crossing rivers, where the contents of the canal between the stop-gates can be run off into the stream.

Locks are chambers, constructed of wood, brickwork, masonry or concrete, and provided with gates at each end, by the aid of which vessels are transferred from one reach of the canal to another. To enable a boat to ascend, the upper gates and the sluices which command the flow of water from the upper reach are closed. The sluices at the lower end of the lock are then opened, and when the level of the water in the lock has fallen to that of the lower reach, the boat passes in to the lock. The lower gates and sluices being then closed, the upper sluices are opened, and when the water rising in the lock has floated the boat up the level of the upper reach the upper gates are opened and it passes out. For a descending boat the procedure is reversed. The sluices by which the lock is filled or emptied are carried through the walls in large locks, or consist of openings in the gates in small ones. The gates are generally of oak, fitting into recesses of the walls when open, and closing against sills in the lock bottom when shut.


V. 6 a .In small narrow locks single gates only are necessary; in large ,locks pairs of gates are required, fitting together at the head or " mitre-post" when closed. The vertical timber at the end of the gate is known as the " heel-post," and at its foot is 0, casting that admits an iron pivot which is fixed in the lock bottom, and on which the gate turns. Iron straps round the;head of the heel-post are let into the lock-coping to support the gate. The gates are opened and closed by balance beams projecting over the lock side, by gearing or in cases where they are very large and heavy by the direct action of a hydraulic :ram. In order to economize water canal locks are made only a few inches wider, than the vessels they have to accommodate. The English canal boat is about 70 or 75 ft. long and 7 or 8 ft. ' in beam; canal barges are the same length but 14 or 15 ft. in width, so that locks which will hold one of them will admit two of the narrower canal boats side by side. In general canal locks are just long enough to accommodate the longest vessels using the navigation. In some cases, however, provision is made for admitting a train of barges; such long locks have sometimes intermediate gates by which the effective length is reduced when a single vessel is passing. The lift of canal locks, that is, the difference between the level of adjoining reaches, is in general about 8 or io ft., but sometimes is as little as 12 ft. On the Canal du Centre (Belgium) there are locks with a lift of 17 ft., and on the St Denis canal near La Villette basins in Paris there is one with a lift of 32-1ft. In cases where a. considerable difference of level has to be surmounted the jocks are placed close together in a series or " flight," so that;the lower gates of one serve also as the upper gates of the next below. To save water, expecially where the lift is considerable, side ponds are sometimes employed; they are reservoirs into which a portion of the water in a lock-chamber is run, instead of being discharged into the lower reach, and is afterwards used for partially filling the chamber again. Double locks, that is, two locks placed side by side and communicating by a" passage which can be opened or closed at will, also tend to save water, since each serves as a side pond to the other. The same advantage is gained with double flights of locks, and time 'also is saved since vessels can pass up and down simultaneously.

A still greater economy of water can be effected by the use df inclined planes or vertical lifts in place of locks. In China rude inclines appear to have been used at an early date, vessels being carried down a sloping plane of stonework by the aid of a flush of water or hauled up it by capstans. On the Bude canal (England) this plan was adopted in an improved form, the small flat-bottomed boats employed being fitted with wheels to facilitate their course over the inclines. Another variant, often adopted as an adjunct to locks where many small pleasure .boats have to be dealt with, is to fit the incline itself with rollers, upon which the boats travel. In some cases the boats are conveyed on a wheeled trolley or cradle running on rails; this plan was adopted on the Morris canal, built in 1825-1831, in the case of 23 inclines having gradients of about i in 10, the rise of each varying from 44 to loo ft. Between the Ourcq canal and the Marne, near Meaux, the difference of level is about 40 ft., and barges weighing about 70 tons are taken from the one to the other on a wheeled cradle weighing 35 tons by a wire rope over an incline nearly 50o yards long. But heavy barges are apt to be strained by being supported on cradles in this way, and to avoid this objection they are sometimes drawn up the inclines floating ,in a tank or caisson filled with water and running on wheels. This arrangement was utilized about 1840 on the Chard canal +(England), and io .years later it was adapted at Blackhill on 4 the, Monkland canal (Scotland) to replace a double flight of locks, in consequence-,of the traffic having been interrupted by insufficiency of water. There the height to be overcome was 96 ft. Two pairs of rails, of 7 ft. gauge, were laid down on a gradient of r in io, and on these ran two carriages having wrought iron, water-tight caissons with lifting gates at each erid, in which the barges floated partially but not wholly supported by water. The carriages, with the barge and water, weighed about 80 tons each, and were arranged to counterbalance each other, one going up as the other was going down. The power required was provided by two high pressure steam engines of 25 h.p., driving two large drums round which was coiled, in opposite directions, the 2-inch wire rope that hauled the caissons. An incline constructed on the Union canal at Foxton (England) to replace io locks giving a total rise of 75 ft., accommodates barges of 70 tons, or two canal boats of 33 tons. It is in some respects like the Monkland canal incline, but the movable caissons work on four pairs of rails on an incline of 1 in 14, broadside on, and the boats are entirely waterborne. Steam power is employed, with an hydraulic accumulator which enables hydraulic power to be used in keeping the, caisson in position at the top of the incline while the boats are being moved in or out, a water-tight joint being maintained with the final portion of the canal during the operation. The gates in the caisson and canal are also worked by hydraulic power. The incline is capable of passing 200 canal boats in 12 hours, and the whole plant is worked by three men.

Vertical lifts can only be used instead of locks with advantage at places where the difference in level occurs in a short length of canal, since otherwise long embankments or aqueducts would be necessary to obtain sites for their construction. An early example was built in 1809 at Tardebigge on the Worcester and Birmingham canal. It consisted of a timber caisson, weighing 64 tons when full of water, counterpoised by heavy weights carried on timber platforms. The lift of 12 ft. was effected in about three minutes by two men working winches. Seven lifts, erected on the Grand Western canal between Wellington and Tiverton about 1835, consisted of two chambers with a masonry pier between them. In each chamber there worked a timber caisson, suspended at either end of a chain hung over large pulleys above. As one caisson descended the other rose, and the apparatus was worked by putting about a ton more water in the descending caisson than in the ascending one. At Anderton a lift was erected in 1875 to connect the Weaver navigation with the Trent and Mersey canal, which at that point is 50 ft. higher than the river. The lift is a double one, and can deal with barges up to loo tons. The change is made while the vessels are floating in 5 ft. of water contained in a wrought iron caisson, 75 ft. long and 152 ft. wide. An hydraulic ram 3 ft. in diameter supports each caisson, the bottom of which is strengthened so as to transfer the weight to the side girders. The descending caisson falls owing to being filled with 6 in. greater depth of water than the ascending one, the weight on the rams (240 tons) being otherwise constant, since the barge displaces its own weight of water; an hydraulic accumulator is used to overcome the loss of weight in the descending caisson when it begins to be immersed in the lower level of the river. The two presses in which the rams work are connected by a 5-in. pipe, so that the descent of one caisson effects the raising of the other. A similar lift, completed in 1888 at Fontinettes on the Neuffosse canal in France, can accommodate vessels of 250 tons, a total weight of 785 tons being lifted 43 ft.; and a still larger example on the Canal du Centre at La Louviere in Belgium has a rise of 50 ft., with caissons that will admit vessels up to 4 00 tons, the total weight lifted amounting to over r000 tons. This lift, with three others of the same character, overcomes the rise of 217 ft., which occurs in this canal in the course of 41 m.


The horse or mule walking along a tow-path and drawing or " tracking " a boat or barge by means of a towing rope, still remains the typical method of conducting traffic on the smaller canals; on ship canals vessels proceed under their own steam or are aided by tugs. Horse traction is very slow. The maximum speed on a narrow canal is about 32 m. an hour, and the average speed, which, of course, depends largely on the number of locks to be passed through, very much less. It has been calculated that in England on the average one horse hauls one narrow canal boat about 2 m. an hour loaded or 3 m. empty, or two narrow canal boats 12 m. loaded and 22m.

empty. Efforts have accordingly been made not only to quicken the rate of transit, but also to move heavier loads, thus increasing the carrying capacity of the waterways. But at speeds exceeding about 32 m. an hour the " wash " of the boat begins to cause erosion of the banks, and thus necessitates the employment of special protective measures, such as building side walls of masonry or concrete. For a canal of given depth there is a particular speed at which a boat can be hauled with a smaller expenditure of energy than at a higher or a - lower speed, this maximum being the speed of free propagation of the primary wave raised by the motion of the boat (see Wave). About 1830 when, in the absence of railways, canals could still aspire to act as carriers of passengers, advantage was taken of this fact on the Glasgow and Ardrossan canal, and subsequently on some others, to run fast passenger boats, made lightly of wrought iron and measuring 60 ft. in length by about 6 ft. in breadth. Provided with two horses they started at a low speed behind the wave, and then on a given signal were jerked on the top of the wave, when their speed was maintained at 7 or 8 m. an hour, the depth of the canal being 3 or 4 ft. This method, however, is obviously inapplicable to heavy barges, and in their case improved conditions of transport had to be sought in other directions.

Steam towage was first employed on the Forth and Clyde canal in 1802, when a tug-boat fitted with steam engines by W. Symington drew two barges for a distance of 192 m. in 6 hours in the teeth of a strong headwind. As a result of .this successful experiment it was proposed to employ steam tugs on the Bridgewater canal; but the project fell through owing to the death of the duke of Bridgewater, and the directors of the Forth and Clyde canal also decided against this method because they feared damage to the banks. Steam tugs are only practicable on navigations on which there are either no locks or they are large enough to admit the tug and its train of barges simultaneously; otherwise the advantages are more than counterbalanced by the delays at locks. On the Bridgewater canal, which has an average width of 50 ft. with a depth of 52 ft., is provided with vertical stone walls in place of sloping banks, and has no locks for its entire length of 40 m. except at Runcorn, where it joins the Mersey, tugs of 50 i.h.p., with a draught of 4 ft., tow four barges, each weighing 60 tons, at a rate of nearly 3 m. an hour. On the Aire and Calder navigation, where the locks have a minimum length of 215 ft., a large coal traffic is carried in trains of boatcompartments on a system designed by W. H. Bartholomew. The boats are nearly square in. shape, except the leading one which has an ordinary bow; they are coupled together by knuckle-joints fitted into hollow stern-posts, so that they can move both laterally and vertically, and a wire rope in tension on each side enables the train to be steered. No boat crews are required, the crew of the steamer regulating the train. If the number of boats does not exceed II they can be pushed, but beyond that number they are towed. Each compartment carries 35 tons, and the total weight in a train varies from 700 to 900 tons. On the arrival of a train at Goole the boats are detached and are taken over submerged cradles under hydraulic hoists which lift the boat with the cradle sufficiently high to enable it to be turned over and discharge the whole cargo at once into a shoot and thence into sea-going steamers. Another method of utilizing steam-power, which was also first tried on the Forth and Clyde canal by Symington in 1789, is to provide each vessel with a separate steam engine, and many barges are now running fitted in this way. Experiments have also been made with internal combustion engines in place of steam engines. In some cases, chiefly on rivers having a strong current, recourse has been had to a submerged chain passed round a drum on a tug: this drum is rotated by steam power and thus the tug is hauled up against the current. To obviate the inconvenience of passing several turns of the chain round the drum in order to get sufficient grip, the plan was introduced on the Seine and Oise in 1893 of passing the chain round a pulley which could be magnetized at will, the necessary adhesion being thus obtained by the magnetic attraction' exercised on the iron chain; and it was also adopted about the same time in combination with electrical haulage on a small portion of the Bourgogne canal, electricity being employed to drive the motor that worked the pulley. Small locomotives running on rails along the towpath were tried on the Shropshire Union canal, where they were abandoned on account of practical' difficulties in working, and also on certain canals in France" and Germany, where, however, the financial results were not' satisfactory. On portions of the Teltow canal, joining the Havel and the Spree, electrical tractors run on rails along both banks, taking their power from an overhead wire; they attain a speed of 22 m. an hour when hauling two 600-tonf. barges. The electrical supply is also utilized for working the lock gates and for various other purposes along the route oft' the canal. In the Mont-de-Rilly tunnel, at the summit level of the Aisne-Marne canal, a system of cable-traction was established in 1894, the boats being taken through by being attached tar an endless travelling wire rope supported by pulleys on the towpath.

When railways were being carried out in England some canal. companies were alarmed for their future, and sold their canals toy' the railway companies, who in 1906 owned 1138 m. of canals out% of a total length in the United Kingdom of 3901 m. As some of these,, canals are links in the chain of internal water communication complaints have frequently arisen on the question of through traffi c and tolls. The great improvements carried out in America and on{ the continent of Europe by state aid enable manufacturers to get, the raw material they use and goods they export to and from theirit ports at much cheaper rates than those charged on British canals. The association of chambers of commerce and other bodies having taken up the matter, a royal commission was appointed in 1906 to report on the canals and water-ways of the kingdom, with a view toi considering how they could be more profitably used for national, purposes. Its Report was published in December 1909.


L. F. Vernon-Harcourt, Rivers and Canals (2nd ed., 1896); Chapman, Canal Navigation; Firisi, On Canals; J Fulton, Canal Navigation; Tatham, Economy of Inland Navigation Valancy, Treatise on Inland Navigation; D. Stevenson, Canal and River Engineering; John Phillips, History of Inland Navigation;, J. Priestley, History of Navigable Rivers, Canals, &c. in Great Britain (1831); T. Telford, Life (1838); John Smeaton, Reports" (1837); Reports of the International Congresses on Interior Naviga tion; Report and Evidence of the Royal Commission on Canals (Great, Britain), 1906-9. (E. L. W.)

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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

A canal.



Wikipedia has an article on:



From Latin canālis (channel; canal).




canal (plural canals)

  1. A channel which connects one body of water to another, either for transport or for drainage
  2. A waterway used for transportation of vessels, especially a manmade one.
  3. A tubular channel within the body.

Related terms


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Help:How to check translations.



From Latin canālis (channel; canal).



canal m. (plural canaux)

  1. canal
  2. channel (broadcasting: specific radio frequency or band of frequencies)



Portuguese Wikipedia has an article on:

Wikipedia pt



canal m.

  1. channel (broadcasting: specific radio frequency or band of frequencies)

This Portuguese entry was created from the translations listed at channel. It may be less reliable than other entries, and may be missing parts of speech or additional senses. Please also see canal in the Portuguese Wiktionary. This notice will be removed when the entry is checked. (more information) April 2008



From Latin canālis (channel; canal).


canal m. (plural canales)

canal m.

canales m.

  1. canal (waterway)
  2. channel (of television)
  3. (communication) channel
  4. (chemistry) channel
  5. cleavage

Derived terms

Simple English

File:Bainbridge in
A US warship in the Suez Canal

A canal is a waterway made by humans. In the 1800s and 1900s, canals were built as a way of transporting heavy goods in barges. Canals usually connect lakes, rivers, or oceans. Some canals allow boats to pass. Others are used for irrigation. The Panama Canal is a famous canal that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. They are inforced with clay or concrete on the sides.bjn:Handil

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